Careers in Social Work: Guides, Jobs by Degree & Interviews

Do you have a desire to help people? Are you looking for a job that allows you to make a difference in someone’s life? If you are seeking a profession that provides meaningful connections with people, an occupation in social work may prove to be an ideal career path.

Social workers work across industries such as health care, government and education. While the workplace and roles may vary, one thing remains consistent: Social workers focus on making a positive impact on others. Curious as to what responsibilities come with the title? Learn what social work careers are available and how you can pursue this profession.

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What Do Social Workers Do?

Social workers are responsible for helping individuals, families and communities deal with difficult or stressful situations. They are care providers and advocates for their clients, whether they be children with behavioral issues, terminally ill patients or families facing displacement. The work environment is varied and includes schools, hospitals and the military.

There are differences between social workers and counselors, although these two careers have similarities. Counselors may help a client with a specific issue such as depression or alcoholism, while social workers provide a comprehensive array of services to a larger client base. Social workers can also perform individual counseling. For more on this, see our article “Social Work vs. Counseling vs. Psychology.

Social workers work at a macro level, where they investigate social problems by researching the causes and effects problems have on individuals and the community. They design programs and advocacy initiatives that seek to address these problems at the community, state and national levels. Macro social workers typically work at social justice and advocacy organizations; research institutions such as universities, government departments and think tanks that develop human services programs; and nonprofits.

Starting Your Career in Social Work

Whether you are interested in working closely with individuals and groups, engaging in research or advocacy, or developing programs that educate and support certain populations within the community, this guide provides information on how you can become a social worker.

Learn more about social work careers by checking out our “how to become” resources below:

12 Types of Social Work Careers

We’ve pulled information from relevant sources and organizations about the social work profession for current and prospective social workers and social work students. Our career guides include information on the following types of social work:


Child Welfare Social Workers

Child welfare social workers help resolve conflict in households with children. While their role specializes in working with a family to build a safe and loving environment for children, they act as a child’s advocate. As such, child welfare social workers play a crucial role in the protection of children from abuse or neglect.

Our Introductory Guide to Child Welfare Social Work describes how child welfare social workers assist vulnerable children and families, and explains the challenges they face on the job. It also offers advice from practicing child welfare social workers on how to prepare for this career.


Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers perform individual and family therapy. Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) are permitted in some states to diagnose and treat mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. They often work in private practices, hospitals or neighborhood mental health agencies.

Our Introductory Guide to Clinical Social Work explains the types of careers in clinical social work; describes the core assessments, therapeutic modalities and case management services that clinical social workers provide; and details the unique rewards and challenges of this field.


Forensic Social Workers (Criminal Justice)

Forensic social workers apply established principles of social work to questions and issues relating to legal matters and litigation, both criminal and civil. Some cases in which forensic social workers may be involved include corrections, child custody and juvenile services.

Our Introductory Guide to Forensic Social Work (Criminal Justice) describes the roles and responsibilities within forensic social work, and explains the challenges and rewards of the field. It also provides advice to social work students who are interested in becoming forensic social workers.


Gerontological Social Workers

As part of the system of health care social work, gerontological social workers help older (geriatric) clients and their families with locating services such as home health care and meal delivery. This type of social worker can further assist older adults as they transition into a nursing care or assisted living facility.

Our Introductory Guide to Gerontological Social Work explains where gerontological social workers work, their daily and long-term responsibilities, and the challenges and rewards of their profession. It also provides advice to social work students on how to prepare for working with older populations.


Hospice and Palliative Social Workers

The classification of hospice and palliative social workers falls within the category of health care social work. Their responsibility is to help patients and their families cope with a terminal illness. Hospice and palliative social workers provide grief counseling or connect patients and their loved ones to outside resources that may include support groups.

Our Introductory Guide to Hospice and Palliative Social Work describes the work settings and responsibilities of hospice and palliative care social workers, and explains the rewards and difficulties of the profession. This article also explains how individuals can prepare for a career in hospice social work.


Medical Social Workers

Medical social workers are another branch of social work within the health care social work structure. They help patients cope with chronic or terminal illnesses through psychological and social support. Other duties include discharge planning, assisting patients in connecting with other services, organizing support groups and performing home visits to recently discharged patients.

Our Introductory Guide to Medical Social Work describes the diverse work settings and core responsibilities of medical social workers, and explains the challenges and rewards of the profession. It also provides advice on how social work students can prepare for a job in medical social work.


Military Social Workers

Military social workers provide military members and their families with resources they need to help them succeed in areas such as mental health and employment. Other social work opportunities within the military vary and include clinical work at Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Our Introductory Guide to Military Social Work explains the different types of military social work roles and work environments, describes the typical responsibilities that military social workers fulfill, and provides advice to students considering a career in military social work.


Pediatric Social Workers

Pediatric social workers join physicians to provide a holistic approach to children and their families faced with medical adversity. While it is typical for a sick child to be the primary client, pediatric social workers may provide support to a child with a parent or family member suffering a health condition.

Our Introductory Guide to Pediatric Social Work describes pediatric social workers’ typical responsibilities and work environments, and explains the challenges and rewards of the profession. It also offers advice from practicing pediatric social workers about preparing for this career.


Psychiatric (Mental Health) Social Workers

Psychiatric social work is a type of medical social work that involves supporting, providing therapy to, and coordinating the care of people with severe mental illness and who require hospitalization or other types of intensive psychiatric help.

Our Introductory Guide to Psychiatric Social Work describes the common types of psychiatric social workers, their responsibilities and the challenges of working closely with individuals suffering from complex and hard to manage conditions who are in deep emotional distress and/or may be a danger to themselves or others.


Private Practice Social Workers

Depending on state regulations, private practice social workers may offer clinical and nonclinical services. Clinical work may involve counseling and providing psychotherapy to individuals, couples, families and groups. Nonclinical services may include mediation, education and conflict resolution, among others.

Our Introductory Guide to Private Practice Social Work explores different types of private practices that licensed clinical social workers can establish, the kinds of client populations they can assist, and the challenges and rewards of starting one’s own private psychotherapy practice.


School Social Workers

These professionals work with children at every grade level. The responsibilities of school social workers include assisting students with issues such as truancy and behavior, which can affect academic progress. As an advocate for children, school social workers connect with outside agencies and resources when necessary.

Our Introductory Guide to School Social Work provides detailed information about school social workers’ daily and long-term responsibilities, and offers advice from practicing school social workers on how to prepare for this career.


Macro Social Workers

Macro social workers focus on fostering positive change in a community based on the diversity and cultural values of its residents. They join community leaders and residents to develop solutions that help resolve issues, encourage involvement and improve the community.

Our Introductory Guide to Macro Social Work discusses the key ways in which macro social workers can affect positive change at the local, state and national levels, and also provides advice for prospective social workers about entering this broad and diverse field of practice.


If you’re interested in working abroad, or working for international organizations, check out our guide to international social work.

Career Interviews with Social Work Professionals

The career guides above draw upon a combination of research and interviews with experts in the field. To supplement each of our guides, we’ve published these expert interviews in full, so that readers can gain additional, authoritative insight into the topics that we explore. Their detailed responses provide insights into what it is like to be a specific type of social worker, including what they do, the challenges they face and why they decided to work in that specific field.

All interviewees were compensated to participate in these interviews.

Medical Social Work Interviews

Heather Brungardt
Interview with Heather Brungardt, LCSW on Medical Social Work

Part of our medical social work interview series: Interview with Heather Brungardt, LCSW on Medical Social Work.


Gina Pascual
Interview with Gina Pascual, MSW, PPSC, on Medical Social Work

Part of our medical social work interview series: Interview with Gina Pascual, MSW, PPSC


Carrie Allen
Interview with Carrie Allen, ASW, on Medical Social Work

Part of our medical social work interview series: Interview with Carrie Allen, ASW

LGBT Social Work Interviews

Renee Reopell
Interview with Renee Reopell, LMSW, on LGBT Social Work

Part of our LGBT social work interview series: Interview with Renee Reopell


Renee Reopell
Interview with Kevin Lotz, LCSW, on LGBT Social Work

Part of our LGBT social work interview series: Interview with Kevin Lotz, LCSW

Geriatric Social Work Interviews

Laura Burns
Interview with Laura Burns, MSW, on Geriatric Social Work

Part of our gerontological social work interview series: Interview with Laura Burns, MSW


Charis Stiles
Interview with Charis Stiles, MSW, on Geriatric Social Work

Part of our gerontological social work interview series: Interview with Charis Stiles

Private Practice Social Work Interviews

Amy Beaulieu
Interview with Amy Beaulieu, LCSW, on Child and Family Social Work

Part of our private practice social work interview series: Interview with Amy Beaulieu, LCSW on child and family social work


Mary Pender Greene
Interview with Mary Pender Greene, LCSW, on Corporate Social Work

Part of our private practice social work interview series: Interview with Mary Pender Greene, LCSW on corporate social work

Child Welfare Social Work Interviews

Maggie Olivares
Interview with Maggie Olivares, MSW, ASW, on Child Welfare Social Work

Part of our child welfare social work interview series: Interview with Maggie Olivares, MSW, ASW


Sasha Chelsea McGowan
Interview with Sasha Chelsea McGowan, MSW, on Child Welfare Social Work

Part of our child welfare social work interview series: Interview with Sasha Chelsea McGowan, MSW

Criminal Justice Social Work Interviews

Chase Finney
Interview with Chase Finney, ASW, on Criminal Justice Social Work

Part of our forensic social work interview series: Interview with Chase Finney, ASW


Jenna Ferrara
Interview with Jenna Ferrara, MSW, on Criminal Justice Social Work

Part of our forensic social work interview series: Interview with Jenna Ferrara, MSW

Psychiatric Social Work Interviews

Lynsey Clark
Interview with Lynsey Clark, ASW, on Psychiatric Social Work

Part of our psychiatric social work interview series: Interview with Lynsey Clark, ASW

School Social Work Interviews

Andy Duffy
Interview with Andy Duffy, MSW, PPSC, on School Social Work

Part of our school social work interview series: Interview with Andy Duffy, MSW, PPSC


Maggie Brown
Interview with Maggie Brown, LCSW, PPSC on School Social Work

Part of our school social work interview series: Interview with Maggie Brown, LCSW, PPSC on School Social Work


Maggie Brown
Interview with Nityda Bhakti, LMSW, on School Social Work

Part of our school social work interview series: Interview with Nityda Bhakti, LMSW

Pediatric Social Work Interviews

DeEtta Barnhardt
Interview with DeEtta Barnhardt, LCSW, LICSW, on Pediatric Social Work

Part of our pediatric social work interview series: Interview with DeEtta Barnhardt, LCSW, LICSW


Shellie Leger
Interview with Shellie Leger, LCSW, on Pediatric Social Work

Part of our pediatric social work interview series: Interview with Shellie Leger, LCSW

Military Social Work Interviews

Zander Keig
Interview with Zander Keig, LCSW, on Military Social Work

Part of our military social work interview series: Interview with Zander Keig, LCSW


Donna Maglio
Interview with Donna Maglio, LCSW, on Military Social Work

Part of our military social work interview series: Interview with Donna Maglio, LCSW

Macro Social Work Interviews

Jessica Warner
Interview with Jessica Warner, LMSW, on Macro Social Work

Part of our macro social work interview series: Interview with Jessica Warner, LMSW, on forensic social work


Karamoko Andrews
Interview with Karamoko Andrews, LMSW, on Macro Social Work

Part of our macro social work interview series: Interview with Karamoko Andrews, LMSW, on public health social work


Kevin Shafer
Interview with Kevin Shafer, PhD, on Macro Social Work

Part of our macro social work interview series: Interview with Kevin Shafer, PhD, on social work research

Clinical Social Work Interviews

Ali Ballard
Interview with Ali Ballard, MSW, on Clinical Social Work

Part of our clinical social work interview series: Interview with Ali Ballard, MSW, on clinical social work with juveniles on probation


Tech Tran
Interview with Tech Tran, ACSW, on Clinical Social Work

Part of our clinical social work interview series: Interview with Tech Tran, ACSW, on clinical social work with the LGBTQ community


Damoun Bozorgzadarbab
Interview with Damoun Bozorgzadarbab, ASW, on Clinical Social Work

Part of our clinical social work interview series: Interview with Damoun Bozorgzadarbab, ASW, on child welfare social work

Parentification Interviews

Katie Krause
Interview with Katie Krause, MSW, on Parentification

Part of our series examining parentification: Interview with child welfare social worker Katie Krause, MSW

Cybersafety and Cyberbullying Interviews

Dr. Samuel McQuade
Interview with Dr. Samuel McQuade on Cybersafety

Part of our series examining cybersafety and cyberbullying: Interview with Dr. Samuel McQuade


Leandra Peloquin
Interview with Leandra Peloquin, MSW, PPSC, on Cybersafety

Part of our series examining cybersafety and cyberbullying: Interview with school social worker Leandra Peloquin, MSW, PPSC


Dr. Elizabeth Englander
Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Englander on Cyberbullying and Cybersafety

Part of our series examining cybersafety and cyberbullying: Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Englander


Dr. Jonathan B. Singer
Interview with Dr. Jonathan B. Singer on Cyberbullying Prevention and Interventions

Part of our series examining cybersafety and cyberbullying: Interview with Dr. Jonathan B. Singer


Dr. Christine MacDonald
Interview with Dr. Christine MacDonald on the Effects of Cyberbullying

Our fourth interview in a new series on the role of school social workers in cyberbullying.

Social Media in Social Work Education Interviews

Dr. Melanie Sage
Interview with Dr. Sage on the Social Media in Social Work Education

Our fourth interview on the role of social media in social work education with Dr. Melanie Sage from the University of North Dakota.


Dr. Jimmy Young
Interview with Dr. Young on Social Media in Social Work Education

Our third interview on the role of social media in social work education with Dr. Jimmy Young from the University of Nebraska-Kearney.

Long-Term Unemployment Interviews

Dr. Ofer Sharone
Interview with Professor Ofer Sharone, PhD on Long-Term Unemployment

Our third interview in a new series on the role of social workers in helping the long-term unemployed with Dr. Ofer Sharone from MIT.


Dr. Ofer Sharone
Dr. Carl Van Horn and Maria Heidkamp on Long-Term Unemployment

Our second interview in a new series on the role of social workers in helping the long-term unemployed with Dr. Van Horn and Maria Heidkamp.

Miscellaneous Interviews

Beth Jakubanis
Interview with Beth Jakubanis, LCSW on Immigration Social Work

Part of our immigration social work interview series: Interview with Beth Jakubanis, LCSW on Immigration Social Work.


Sadie Mahoney
Interview with Sadie Mahoney, LCSW on Community Social Work

Part of our community social work interview series: Interview with Sadie Mahoney, LCSW on Community Social Work.

Social Work Careers by Degree

Although requirements vary from state to state, some social work careers listed above may require a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or a master’s degree in social work (MSW). Depending on your interests, you may want to explore various concentrations offered in online MSW programs to see what options are available. We have listed some 60+ graduate schools along with their concentrations.

Other related social work positions may require either a bachelor’s degree or a doctorate.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW)

  • Case Management Aide
  • Probation Officer
  • Human Services Specialist
  • Community Outreach Worker
  • Juvenile Court Liaison

Explore our full list of accredited online BSW programs.

Doctorate in in Social Work (PhD & DSW)

  • Professor of Social Work
  • Human Services Administrator
  • Behavior Supervisor
  • Child Welfare Researcher
  • Nonprofit Director

Explore our full list of online DSW programs, or browse the online PhD programs.

Social Work Salaries

It is important to remember salary figures vary according to several factors—including but not limited to location, education level and professional experience. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the national average pay for social workers was $50,470 in 2019. For more information on salaries, please refer to our article on how much social workers make.

Job Prospects

According to the BLS, job prospects should be very good for the social work industry. The agency reports a continued increased demand for health care will provide social workers with a higher number of opportunities compared to social workers who do not offer treatment services.

Social Work Employment
Occupational Title Employment 2019 Employment 2029 Change 2019 - 2029
Social workers, overall 713,200 803,800 13%
Child, family and school social workers 342,500 382,600 12%
Health care social workers 185,000 211,700 14%
Mental health and substance abuse social workers 123,200 143,800 17%
Social workers, all other 62,500 65,600 5%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers Job Outlook 2019

Skills That May Help You in Your Social Work Career

The ideal candidate for a career in social work is one who strives to help others and enjoys a challenging role. A position in social work requires empathy, understanding and devotion to making a difference.

According to ONet Online, a resource maintained by U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, these are skills social workers need to succeed at their jobs:

  • Active listening: giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
  • Speaking: talking to others to convey information effectively.
  • Critical thinking: using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
  • Social perceptiveness: being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
  • Judgment and decision-making: considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.

FAQs

What are the license requirements for a social worker?
Because rules and regulations vary state to state, it is essential you look over the standards for whichever state in which you wish to work. You can view individual state requirements at the Association of Social Work Boards website.

How long does it take to become a licensed social worker?
It depends on the level of licensure you want to obtain and your state’s requirements. These are general estimates: bachelor’s degree, four years; master’s degree in social work, two years; internship/practicum hours, varies. Social work credentials and licensing are obtainable through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

For a full discussion, see our article “How long does it take to become a social worker?

Is a master’s degree in social work (MSW) worth it?
You may find employment within the social work industry with a bachelor’s degree in social work. However, your career opportunities may be limited. With a master’s degree in social work, you will increase your options to a variety of workplaces, including hospitals, schools or within the judicial system. The advanced degree may further enhance your earning potential.

See our article “What is an MSW?” for more information, including the pros and cons of earning one.

Can you earn your degree in social work online?
Yes. Today, many CSWE-accredited schools offer full- and part-time social work degree programs online, including BSW, MSW, DSW and PhD programs.

How do I know if social work is right for me?
If you are interested in a demanding yet flexible and rewarding career that allows you to make a difference in the lives of others, social work may be an ideal career choice for you. Whether you choose to work with children, families, patients or communities, you can find a career in social work that will prove both challenging and rewarding.

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Last updated: October 2020


This page includes information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA.